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PalmSource Smartens Up OS for Mobile Phones

By Jay Lyman
Sep 28, 2004 12:24 PM PT

PalmSource is paving a path for its operating system (OS) to suit phone capabilities in the small but growing smartphone market.

PalmSource Smartens Up OS for Mobile Phones

Previously limited to handheld personal digital assistants (PDA), which have not grown at nearly the same rate as mobile phones, PalmSource says its latest Cobalt OS, version 6.1, would have integrated telephony components including standard GSM and GPRS application programming interfaces (API), and would support expansion cards for cameras, global positioning systems (GPS) and wireless radios.

Joining Symbian and MS

Yankee Group analyst John Jackson said the smartphone enhancements hold the potential to bring PalmSource into an expanding market that still has room despite early inroads by Symbian and Microsoft.

Jackson said the new Cobalt seemed to offer the flexibility needed for success, but he added that PalmSource had not yet announced a deal with a major hardware manufacturer, and that the Cobalt capabilities can also be had from PalmSource's competitors.

"This seems to offer this potential [of flexibility]," Jackson said. "But so does Symbian. [PalmSource] is not alone, and it is arguably late."

Putting Palm To Ear

PalmSource, known for its robust handheld operating systems such as Garnet, said its new Cobalt OS had been optimized for creation of smartphones and handheld devices with more wireless capabilities.

"By integrating state-of-the-art wireless functionality into Palm OS, we are providing our Palm OS licensee and developer community a real time-to-market advantage in delivering smartphones and wireless mobile devices to consumers," said PalmSource CEO David Nagel in a statement.

The new operating system has been geared up for phone capabilities with support for GSM, MUX and GPRS wireless standards and also supports NAND ROMs for automatic backup and restore features to prevent data loss. Other features of the new smartphone-focused operating system include: standard Bluetooth and WiFi 802.11 wireless support; standard support for software compatibility with other wireless devices; and built-in support for expansion cards.

Tighter Integration, Brighter Outlook

Jackson said the new Cobalt offered an emphasis on telephony and connectivity. He added that while smartphones continue to make up a very small segment, it is a rapidly growing market that has attracted major investment from Microsoft and others.

"For the non-Microsoft camp, it's a race to traverse the cost curves into a more market-friendly form factor with a high degree of flexibility and customization," Jackson said.

Jackson said Symbian had found success in the smartphone space by allowing manufacturers to take its operating system and build on features and functionality without having to upgrade, something PalmSource is trying to replicate.

Jackson said it was key for PalmSource to get support from hardware manufacturers, but added the company's entry could contribute to the projected surge of the smartphone market, which is forecast to grow by triple digit percentages in coming years.

Really Smart Phone

IDC analyst Alex Slawsby called the new Cobalt operating system "a good platform with the user in mind." Although the industry is waiting to see devices based on the OS, he added, there is also an understanding that a new platform requires time.

Slawsby said while Symbian has been successful with smartphones, its edge is diminished when its Nokia Series 60 devices, which are arguably enhanced mobile phones, are not included.

"Then it's a lot closer," he said of the smartphone competition.

Slawsby added that the actual use of some Symbian smart phones is limited to mobile-phone type functions -- something competitors, including PalmSource, may be trying to avoid.

"They're not going to trade off their strengths for telephony just to sell phones," Slawsby said.

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